On any given day—or in any given political speech—you will probably hear a reference, either explicit or implicit, to education reform. It's a popular topic because, quite frankly, we're all aware there is something very wrong with education in this country.
From "Goals 2000" to "No Child Left Behind" to "Race to the Top" to "Common Core," each successive administration promises they will fix what's wrong, yet year after year and decade after decade we see things continuing to go downhill.
Not only do we spend an ever-increasing amount of money on a system getting worse rather than better, we don't even have adequate metrics to determine precisely how poorly the system performs. To hear politicians talk, standardized tests are the silver bullet for all our woes, but the reality has not lived up to the expectation.
The current focus on standardized testing was recently lampooned by John Oliver's Last Week Tonight which devoted 18 minutes to an epic takedown of the American public education system's preoccupation with standardized tests. Highlighting everything from pro-testing pep rallies to massive walkouts and unsolvable riddles such as the infamous "talking pineapple" question, Oliver's piece was a humorous look at a very serious problem.
As a libertarian, I'm not surprised by the continuing failures of the American education system because we're talking about government schools. Can you imagine if America had decided to solve its hunger problems with government grocery stores rather than food stamps? It's one thing to provide someone with some extra funds so that they can participate in the market, it's quite another to assume that the government should take over the market entirely. Education is failing because it's not occurring in a free market environment, and nothing except the free market can fix it.
Private schools and home-schooling remain far superior options to government schools with studies showing that the home-educated typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests, and that these statistics hold up regardless of student gender, parents education level, and family income. We don't need to look to foreign countries for successful education models because we have fantastically successful education options already available—at least to those who can afford them.
Ultimately, while true education reform would be nice, real and accessible education choice would be even better. The answer to America's education problems is not better government schools, but working to replace government offerings with the superior results and opportunities of the free market. That's one reason why the Idaho Freedom Foundation has launched the cheekily titled "Refunds for Fairness" initiative. We want to allow families who buy their education on the market to get a refund for the taxes they pay to fund the government schools they're not using.
Until acceptable state-level programs are adopted—I advocate refundable tax credits for non-use of public schools—those who want the best education possible for their children will find themselves paying twice, once for the quality education they buy and once for the government schools which are beyond hope. It's time to move beyond government and embrace the free market in education just as we do in other aspects of life. That's the only way we'll ever really fix what's wrong with the current system.